Multimedia: The best and worst of 1998
1 Star Wars: Behind the Magic (LucasArts, CD-ROM for PC)
CD-ROM of the Year
Stormtroopers are superb tap dancers. That’s just one of a jillion epiphanies we experienced in this brilliantly executed reference CD-ROM — the ultimate guide to all things Star Wars and one of the few worthy multimedia adjuncts to a Hollywood property. The two-disc set pools the vast universe of Star Wars movies (including a peek at gizmos and characters from Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace), novels, comic books, games, toys, and documentaries — and somehow presents the morass in an organized, vastly entertaining on-screen encyclopedia. Each click of the mouse reveals another gem, from the simple (an animated, beeping R2-D2 that introduces a video clip) to the outrageously grandiose (the lighthearted Weapons Test Facility that demonstrates the relative powers of blasters, lightsabers, even the Death Star cannon by firing on one unlucky stormtrooper). With Star Wars mania once again at a fever pitch, isn’t it nice to have a real scorecard to what happened a long, long time ago in that galaxy far, far away?
2 E! Online
With the glut of entertainment-news websites out there — Entertainment Asylum, Mr. Showbiz, our own damn fine EW Online — it might seem hard for any one of them to leave a lasting impression. Yet the E! Entertainment cable channel’s online outpost keeps us browsing by day after day, week after week. What’s the secret? Tons of stuff: A-list celebrity chats, gossip, reams of factoids, reviews, links up the ying-yang, wry interactive games like ”Studio Boss,” Marilyn Beck, a shopping mall — and it’s all pulled together through a frothy interface and a consistent, deeply wisenheimer tone. The result’s one of the handful of Web properties that actually improves on its source.
This was the year in which all those kids up to no good in their bedrooms and college dorms — downloading and playing (choke!) often-illegal music files — finally caught the eye of the music industry, which shrieked in dismay, asked the government to outlaw a new Walkman-style player that would let you take those tunes off your computer and carry them around, and sputtered in disbelief when a federal judge said no. We may see this one in court in ’99; but for now, getting your music via the Net has arrived, and MP3 is far and away the populist format of choice. Will it transform the industry? Maybe not — but we’d hate to own a record store in five years.
4 Metal Gear Solid (Konami, for PlayStation)
The videogame industry saw its own Event Movie this year, and unlike Hollywood’s representatives (hello, Godzilla), the real thing actually surpassed the prerelease hype. Metal Gear puts you in control of macho government agent Solid Snake as he battles a megalomaniac with a nuclear weapon that’s invisible to all radar (uh-oh!). The action is literally heart pounding: At times the game simulates your heart racing by signaling your force-feedback joystick to thump. But most welcome is that rarest of features in games — and movies — nowadays: careful attention to plot and character development.